It’s at the top of the list of our gardening jobs this spring: to remove a rather neglected olive tree from a pot that it’s seriously outgrown, and to plant it into one of the beds in the garden. The tree is still alive, of course, but the roots are clearly turning in on themselves, and the tree is rather stunted as a result. Certainly any chance of the thing bearing fruit is wishful thinking.
And there’s something about Jesus’ ministry, culminating in the events of Holy Week and Easter, which reminds me powerfully of that olive tree. For Jesus had the extraordinary gift of calling people out of a pot-bound existence and transplanting them into the spacious field of God’s purpose for their lives.
That was true of Peter and Andrew, James and John, called to leave their villages and fishing businesses so as to ‘go out into all the world’ and become ‘fishers of people’. It was true of Matthew the tax collector (and the rich young man as well), called to put behind them a materialistically pot-bound existence so as to discover life in all its fullness. And even the confines of death itself - that most fearful and claustrophobic of all pots – were burst asunder by Jesus on the first Easter morning, so displaying the fullest implication of Jesus’ own words in John 8:36, ‘If the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed’.
So what’s the mission of the Diocese of Guildford this Easter-time? The metaphor of transplanting a pot-bound tree seems peculiarly apt. For the task of Christian leadership (in parish, school, family and workplace) begins with casting a vision of the Kingdom of God, and helping people (ourselves among them) take up our place within that vision – ‘giving up our small ambitions’, in the memorable phrase of Michael Griffiths, so as to aim for something bigger and nobler.
Some church communities sadly fail to do that (for a time at least), becoming increasingly pot-bound, with the roots turning in on themselves, and most of their energies being channelled into power games and infighting. The same can happen in any human institution that has lost its way. But Jesus’ bursting from the tomb calls us to something far better than that: to a life where we can stretch our roots deep into his word and our shoots wide into his world, drinking in the water of his Spirit and bearing ‘fruit that will last’. Being Easter people liberates us from being pot-bound people.
A ‘transforming church, transforming lives’ is our shared vision for the diocese. And perhaps the transplanting of our little olive tree might act as something of a parable, an icon, of what that transformation could look like.
Have a very fruitful Easter!